September 22, 2020

90 in the shade, but done in by snow

My friend Ed and I were wrapping up our annual baseball spring training trip the other day, in typical fashion: game, watering hole, cheeseburgers, hotel.

We were just topping off the evening on the patio with our last few beers and conversation, which by meandering path somehow led us to an animated discussion of assorted musical icons.

We worked our way through the Beatles, Johnny Cash and Nirvana pretty much with consensus. Ed then fervently tried to make a case for the Pixies, a case I just as fervently resisted, based on the fact that I’d basically never heard of the Pixies.

Did I mention it was after midnight? I think you get the general tenor.

Then, as occasionally seems to happen in life, things pretty much went to hell.

I don’t recall why I checked my phone, but there was an email six hours or so old from the airline that was supposed to see me home from Phoenix to New York.

“We apologize for the inconvenience,” it said, “but we were not able to rebook you onto another flight at this time.”

Rebook? What?

I had not been unaware of potential problems related to the approaching snow storm back East. I was in fact fully prepared for delays in my departure, scheduled for noonish Tuesday.

But when I called the airline, I was told that not only was Tuesday out, but also Wednesday. And Thursday. I might be able to get a flight Friday, a representative said.

Can’t you book me on some other airline, I asked?

The only airlines we do business with are not available, the representative said.

Can you put me up somewhere, I asked, considering the princely sum I’d be paying for three more days in Phoenix?

“We’re not in the hotel business,” the representative said.

How about flying me to Nashville until things sort out, and then on to New York?

Stopovers aren’t authorized.

The back and forth went on for a while. In terms used for talks between governments, I would not describe it as “cordial” or “constructive.” We had what is instead known as a “frank discussion of differences.” The airline’s firm position was that the whole matter was my fault, that I should have anticipated the potential for disruption and rebooked my return flight days earlier, yada yada yada, tough luck.

As you might imagine the airline representative and I are not likely to become Facebook friends, nor do I feel inclined to choose her airline again when making my future travel decisions.

I ended up accepting a take-it-or-leave-it offer of a crack-of-dawn flight to Nashville Tuesday (with a four-and-a-half-hour layover in Dallas), but that was as far as the airline would give.

Having friends to stay with in Nashville, I figured a ticket from there would still beat the cost and annoyance of a Phoenix hotel.

Ed, who listened in to the whole of the exchanges, said afterward that I had been much nicer than he would have been. But that’s a low bar, considering he pretty much advocated working my way up the airline chain of command and cussing out the president, if need be.

My naïve belief had been that, given the circumstances, a company in the business of trying to attract and retain customers might make a reasonable effort to accommodate one.

In this case, that was apparently deemed un-American.

Joe Rogers worked for The Clarion-Ledger, The Tennessean and The New York Times. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com or on Twitter @jrogink.